More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910

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Any substantive evaluation of Kathryn Daynes’s More Wives Than One should begin by emphasizing that this is a work of the highest order—Daynes brings originality, talent, and rigor to her work. Her book is likely to be extremely important; it received the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Award for 2002. The award is richly deserved: the book includes innovative work in multiple dimensions of a complex and often elusive past.

The book, a study of polygamy in Manti, Utah, from religious, social, and legal perspectives over seven decades, does not simply investigate the laws and religious doctrines that were designed to govern the lives of residents of Manti. More important—and in the end, the heart of the book—is Daynes’s examination of how and why women entered into plural marriage, how their decisions changed with different patterns of immigration and affluence, and what portion of the population was involved in plural marriage at different periods. Daynes is interested in ordinary folk, and her work allows her to piece together how men and women navigated a world in which religious command and legal mandates came into direct and prolonged conflict. As Daynes sees it, while the doctrines and beliefs that underlay plural marriage were firmly in place by the end of the Nauvoo period and continued after 1890, political reality meant that polygamy truly flourished only between 1847 and approximately 1882 (when the federal government disfranchised polygamists and prohibited “unlawful cohabitation”). This short but intense period, as well as the focus on a single community, allows Daynes to give her readers a deeper look at how plural marriage was lived by those who practiced it than has been achieved in prior works on the subject.

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